Session: New Directions in Castle Research
By Kieran D. O’Conor, National University of Ireland – Galway
This paper explored some thoughts on the topic of Castle Studies.
People incorrectly assume that all castles are medieval and that there is little new to learn about them. This paper endeavours to demonstrate why castle studies are important and not stagnant.
Castles were well fortified, elite residences and were the centers of their owners estates. Decisions made in castles were key in understanding the surrounding settlement. Castle architecture can help us understand political ambitions and the messages members of the elite wanted to convey. An interdisciplinary approach to Castle Studies needs to be taken; cartography, medieval literature, poetry, and manuscripts need to be taken into account when examining castles.
The polygonal shape of castle towers (especially 8 sided) have strong religious meaning. This architecture linked castles to church structures. Churches were viewed as the place between heaven and earth thus Kings used polygonal towers to show their pretensions when building castles.
Timber Castles – these castles were built from Ireland to Poland in Medieval Europe. Mottes were built in the 10th century and stopped being built in the 13th century but research shows that these were still being built in Poland well into the 13th and 14th centuries. Mottes were constructed to be permanent. More work needs to be carried out on the dating and building of these timber castles.
What were castles? Not all defended residences constitute castles. It was thought that the advent of gun powder spelled the end of castles but this is not true; castles were being built well into the 17th century. Late-built castles have not been well studied and the questioned asked was, what motivated men to build castles at such a late date? Some scholars do not even consider these castles. Lastly, there is a reluctance to include the study of castles among settlement archeologists in England and some difficulty in obtaining funding for castle studies.